Sushi & Wine pairing

I have already heard it more than a dozen times: Japanese food matches only with sake or beer, no chance for wine, mainly because of some of its ingredients that will supposedly give wine a hard time.

However, I guarantee you, that if you take in consideration a couple of tips, you will enjoy the refined Japanese cuisine even more in the company of a good glass of wine.

Check out my suggestions for a great sushi and wine experience:

Part 1 – Sushi

Sushi, while light, delicate and subtle, has very complex flavors. The relatively big variety of fish, seafood and shellfish used in Japanese kitchen, they all have very different textures and are incredibly rich in flavors. In addition, there is the rice, with its light touch of vinegar that adds acidity and some sweetness. Not to forget the wasabi, which adds bitterness and pungency. This wide range of flavors makes it difficult (but not impossible) to find the right wine for a successful pairing.

Traditionally sushi is paired with light sake or Asahi beer (Japanese rice lager), both with the intention of cleaning the palate.

Talking about wine, a great choice (and one of my favorites) is Champagne.

Champagne Blanc de Blancs, with its high acidity, combined with a light body and very subtle flavors, emphasizes the delicate flavors of sushi rather than dominating them. Even better can be a dry Champagne like Extra Brut or one with no residual sugar: Pas Dosé.

Another excellent partner for sushi is cool climate dry white wine (New Zealand, Oregon, Germany), one that has not aged in wood barrel. Its high acidity and its fantastic mineral note add up to the subtle minerality (salinity) found in many seafood. Chablis (no oak, Burgundy), Chenin Blanc from the denomination of Savennières (Loire), Pinot Blanc and dry Riesling from Alsace (France), Sauvignon Blanc from Alto Adige (Italy) are all wonderful choices.

These above are generic pairing tips, valid for most of sushi. Let us try to be more specific: most white fish, delicate and light in texture, will pair well with Blanc de Blancs Champagne and cold climate white wines mentioned above.

For eel (鰻魚), sea urchin (海膽) and roe (鱼卵), try Chablis. Many Grand Cru and Premier Cru can have their wines matured in oak barrel. Those wines bring along flavors (butter, oak, vanilla) that clearly interferes with a positive the match. So opt for unoaked burgundy Chardonnay.

Shrimp and crabs such as Ama-ebi (蝦 蝦), Kuruma-ebi (節 蝦 蝦) and Zuwaigani (蟹 蟹) are richer in flavors than most white fish. This makes them excellent to pair with richer, buttery, oak-aged white wines.

Fatter or „fleshy“ fish like maguro (tuna, 魚 魚) and Duke (鮪 魚 魚) present some similarities in terms of texture and flavor with red meat. Therefore, parings with light to medium red wines, with little or no tannins (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or unoaked Merlot) may be a good surprise.

However, Japanese cuisine is not just about sushi. How can I not mention other delicacies of that exquisite gastronomy and its ideal pairing when it comes to wine?

Part 2 – Sashimi – coming next!

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